14 November to 30 November 1998, World Cup Blind Cricket
After two years of planning and a career spanning 20 years, finally, a world cup of blind cricket. The team departed Sydney heading for New Delhi, a quick stop over in Kuala Lumpur and then into hot, dry, stinky, busy and weird New Delhi.
As the aircraft landed the mood of the team was ebullient. We were all excited. Many of us had toured New Zealand and be named in Australian sides, but this was the first time we were in a tournament representing our country. Could we go all the way?
The conditions were different, the ball different and the game had changed so much in 12 months that beating India was going to be tough. We were in their land, playing their game, the way the game of blind cricket had evolved and developed here. Totally different to the Australian game. Pakistan and Sri :Lanka were also in the box seat having played Indian style for many years. The Antipodes, England and South Africa would struggle.
We had a couple of days to acclimatise before the tournament got started.
We went through the round robin with only one loss, to India the hosts. They kept us to a low total and easily scored the runs. But all other steams we were able to beat. Some nail biting games and others where we simply coasted home to victory.
Generally the mood of the team was great. As with any tournament people in different roles may have done things differently, but by and large we had a good tournament leading into the semi final.
Personally I was happy with my efforts, having scored a half century against England and a century against Sir Lanka. I’d bowled Ok, fielded in my usual spot, point, taking a catch and saving a few runs. Conditions were difficult: the grounds were super fast with outfields basically packed dirt. Diving, sliding etc were problematic. I remember diving for a ball and scraping my knee. An Indian medico came onto the field to look at me. Dipped a dirty rag in a bucket of water and washed my knee down. He said it would be fine. Bandaged me up and off he went.
We got to know players from other teams and really build strong friendships in a short time. I developed a great friendship with an Indian batter, Pratap. He was only 19, a great kid, loving his cricket and loving meeting us Aussie legends. We’d seek each other out after play and chat about our games. He showed me around New Delhi, his hometown: one night we went out for a drink. Tea. He went to his local tea shop. It was a dingey little ramshackle place hidden down a dark alley. I thought I was going to be kidnapped or murdered. But no, we sat and enjoyed tea and some Indian desserts, chatted for hours about cricket and got to know the shop owner. It was a wonderful experience in the end and helped cement our friendship.
Off the field in our camp things were good most of the time. As with any long tournament and a group of people cooped up in a hotel together tempers fray from time to time. It was all part of the trip, the experience. Should he get dropped for him, why don’t we give them a go. Geez, he played poorly today, maybe we need to drop him. I felt the leadership group didn’t always get it right, but what more could they do, we won all but one of our lead up games and our side for the semi-final was, I believed, our strongest. The batting order could have been improved, but that’s hindsight.
We were set a massive 342 to chase in the semi. Pakistan batted well and Bhati, their leading batsmen got on top of us with a glorious 166.
We started our chase well, with solid innings from our top order. Backstrom was the backbone with a steady 124. I shared a partnership of around 100 with him as I hit a quick 63 in 40 balls.. Throughout the whole innings we were just behind the required rate, which kept pressure on us. I pushed for twos when there was only one there. I took risks hitting boundaries, but thought, if we were going to win we have to take some risks. We were only three down with some big hitting in the sheds.
We were around 30 short for three overs to go. I met with Backstrom and said we really needed to ramp it up. He pushed a single and I was on strike. 29 from 17.
I hit a square drive for four, then pushed a two.
23 off 15.
The next ball was outside leg and my eyes lit up, here’s a four though mid-wicket. I leaned it and clipped it off my toes, or so I thought. It skipped on me and bowled me. Oh my god. I was devastated. As I walked off I felt as though I had lost the game for my team, our team, our country.
I was shattered. I tossed my bat and gloves and sat on my own and watched the next 15 balls. We fell eight runs short.
We lost another wicket and our big hitter couldn’t hit the boundary. Backstrom was as steady as always and just wasn’t cut out to score at more than a run a ball.
After the game we all just sat around, some of us cried, me included. So close, yet eight runs short.
That night I was sitting in my room. I was shattered: emotionally, physically. Just exhausted. Our tournament was over and whilst you’re playing you cast aside feelings of tiredness and little niggles. But once the event is over, your body just collapses. There are a couple of photos of me below which show this exhaustion. I’m sitting up against a wall, spent as a human being. For 20 years I’d given everything to this game. For two years I’d worked with a handful of others to bring this event off. For two weeks I’d played the best and hardest cricket I’d ever played. I was done. Cooked. The photo says it all.
The next photo is as good as the first. That’s Pratap on me. The funny thing is that day India also got beat. The tournament favourites, beaten by South Arica, who would go on and win. We were both devastated.
He hugs me and we fall to the ground. “Linke” he says, “We lost!”
“So did we mate.”
“But in reality Linke, tomorrow: air will fill your lungs, the warmth of the sun will warm your skin, our friendship will touch your heart and you will be alive. It is cricket, it is a way of life. But it is a game.”
Pratap and I stay in touch for year’s after the event.
2010 update: Pratap is married, finished his studies and retired from cricket. We email from time to time.
After the event we see the sights and wash away the drama of that semi final. We visit the Taj Mahal, we actually get in this timer, not like in 1996. We visit the Red Fort, Old Delhi and disappear into the bowels of shopping centres at Connaught Place and others.
The team enjoys some really good down time.
India is an amazing place. Dirty. Clean. Rich. Poor. Loud. Quiet. All in the space of ten minutes. We sample and enjoy the street food, get conned by the street sellers, are offered anything from drugs to woman, monkeys and snakes as pets and children to take back to Australia. It’s sad and happy at the same time. I’d love to go back one day. Maybe I will.
Australia v Pakistan Semi Final: http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1998-99/OTHERS+ICC/WC-BLIND/SCORECARDS/AUS_PAK_WC-BLIND-SF_26NOV1998.html